Dog with milky eyes

Key takeaway

Dog blindness can be caused by a number of issues, including diabetes, glaucoma, SARDs, and cataracts. Treatment options involve addressing the root cause of blindness; in most cases, eyesight loss is irreversible, but there are ways to help your dog live a happy, healthy life when blind.

Just like humans, a dog’s eyesight can deteriorate with age. As they get older, you may start to notice they’re bumping into objects that are right in front of them, or they’re overcome with anxiety before entering a new place. This likely means that your dog is losing vision and you have to figure out a way to help them cope with it.

Blindness is a condition of being unable to see due to an injury, disease, or a congenital condition or general aging changes. Blindness in dogs can happen with age or as a result of health conditions, like glaucoma or diabetes. Blindness in dogs can develop suddenly, or over the course of several months or years. But the earlier you catch it, the better you can help your dog cope with it. This leaves you ample time to determine why your dog is going blind, possible treatments, and how you can accommodate their new needs.

A dog going blind is terrifying for both the owner and the dog, so we’ve created a guide that will help you have a better understanding of what to do if your dog is blind.

We’ll be discussing the symptoms and causes of blindness in dogs, potential dog blindness treatment, how to live with a blind dog, and more. So if you want to learn more about dog blindness, continue reading. Otherwise, you can use the links below to skip to any section of your choice.

Symptoms of Blindness or Vision Issues in Dogs

The symptoms of blindness or vision issues in dogs differ for every dog depending on the cause and severity of their blindness.

These are common symptoms that will indicate if your dog is blind or starting to lose vision:

  • Cloudy appearance of the eye
  • Your dog is bumping into objects
  • Signs of anxiety or hesitation when in new places
  • Your dog is suddenly unwilling to go up or down stairs, or jump onto furniture which they normally did
  • Eyes are red, puffy or swollen
  • Obvious eye irritation or pawing at face
  • If your dog seems confused, dazed, easily startled
  • Bumping into things
  • Acting afraid to move
  • General clumsiness
  • Jumpiness
  • Apprehensive during play
  • Unable to find water, food, and toys
  • Not wanting to go outside
  • Depression
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Anxiousness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Missing/unable to catch tossed treats

The most obvious sign that your dog is going blind is that they’ll start bumping into furniture or objects in your home, especially new objects. Your blind dog may have committed the layout of your home to memory, but if you add something new to the layout, they’ll likely bump into it. Dog anxiety can also be a symptom of vision impairment. So if your pup hesitates before going outside for their nightly pee, that might be an indication they’re losing their eyesight.

The appearance of your dog’s eyes can also tell you a lot about their eyesight. Blind dog eyes tend to look cloudy, red, or swollen. Their pupils may also stop dilating when they’re exposed to light.

Types of Blindness in Dogs

There are three different types of blindness in dogs. Each type can have a different cause, symptoms, and treatment, so it’s crucial to know what type of blindness your dog has so you can care for them properly. These are types of blindness in dogs:

Types of blindness in dogs

Complete Blindness:

Complete blindness is when a dog is unable to see anything, including light.

Intermittent Blindness:

Intermittent Blindness is when blindness comes and goes randomly.

Partial Blindness:

Partial blindness is when a dog has cloudy vision and may be able to see shapes and light. They also may only be blind in one eye.

Causes of Blindness in Dogs

There are many different causes of blindness in dogs. Vision loss in dogs can be due to old age, disease, injury, or genetic conditions. If your dog is partially blind, this may be a symptom of an underlying health condition that happens with age, such as heart disease or kidney and liver problems. It’s crucial to know why your dog is blind so that you can find the proper treatment, if possible.

These are some of the most common causes of blindness in dogs:

Diabetes:

Diabetes in dogs has become increasingly more common, and one of the symptoms of diabetes is blindness. This is because most diabetic dogs develop cataracts within 6 months of diagnosis, which can cause partial or complete blindness. Older dogs, female dogs, and obsese dogs are more at risk of developing diabetes.

Many diabetic dogs develop cataracts, which can cause partial or complete blindness

Glaucoma:

Glaucoma is a buildup of fluid inside the eye and can be quite painful for your pup. Glaucoma can cause the retina to become damaged, which can result in blindness. Symptoms of glaucoma are typically noticeable and progress slowly, so it’s easy to spot the disease in its early stages. Symptoms of glaucoma include yellow or green eye discharge, dilated pupils, a blue tinged color to the eye, and bloodshot eyes. You can easily treat glaucoma with medication eye drops if it’s caught early enough. But if the disease continues untreated for a long period of time, it can lead to partial or complete blindness.

Dog losing vision

Suddenly Acquired Retinal Degeneration (SARDS):

SARDS is rare in dogs, but it can cause sudden-onset permanent blindness. SARDS causes the retina to deteriorate. The condition develops very quickly and can cause complete blindness in as little as a couple of days. There is no known cause for SARDS, but it’s thought that dogs with Cushing’s diseases may be at more risk. Dogs with SARDS can have a hard time adjusting to their blindness as it happens very suddenly.

Cataracts:

Cataracts in dogs are easy to identify as it often causes a cloudy or milky appearance to their eyes. Cataracts usually start with a small portion of the eye, but it can progress to the entire lens. The condition blocks a dog’s pupils and prevents light from fully reaching the retina. It can impact one or both eyes. Cataracts are often a symptom of diabetes, but it can also develop as a response to trauma. The quicker you catch cataracts, the easier they’ll be to treat. Medication and supplements are often recommended as treatment, but surgery can also be performed to remove the cataract and insert an artificial lens to restore vision. Surgery needs to be performed by a veterinary eye specialist.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy:

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is a painless, inherited condition that causes the retina to deteriorate and can lead to blindness. PRA can either be early onset and show up in puppies, or late onset that shows up in older dogs. PRA develops at a slower rate than SARDS, and there is no cure for it. Certain dog breeds are more prone to developing PRA, including Bedlington Terriers, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers.

Dog breeds more likely to develop eyesight problems

Corneal Ulcers:

A corneal ulcer is a wound on the corneal surface. When a dog has a corneal ulcer, fluid will accumulate in the stroma, which makes their eye appear cloudy. A corneal ulcer is very painful for a dog, which may cause your dog to rub their affected eye to relieve some of the pain. They may also tend to keep their affected eye closed in an attempt to protect it. The most common cause of a corneal ulcer is trauma to the eye. Bacterial infections, viral infections, or other diseases are less common, but still possible, causes. Surgery may be required to protect the injury in the eye and promote healing.

Autoimmune Conditions:

There are some autoimmune conditions, such as Pannus, that can cause blindness in dogs. Pannus is a condition that affects the cornea. Pannus can easily be treated with eye medication, but if it’s left untreated for a long period of time, it can cause severe vision impairment or even blindness.

Uveodermatologic syndrome is another autoimmune condition that can cause blindness in dogs. This condition affects the pigmented cells in the body, especially those with blue eyes. Symptoms typically begin as eye problems, such as redness, squinting, and cloudy eyes. Systemic corticosteroids are typically used as treatment. If the condition is caught early enough, your dog’s vision will likely be able to be temporarily restored, but it can still turn to blindness eventually.

Tumors:

Tumors that are located in, around, or behind the eye can cause blindness in dogs. The tumor can block a dog’s vision and damage the structure of the eye. If a tumor is found in or around the eye, the only way to remove it is to also remove the eye. It’s also possible for brain tumors and nerve tumors to cause blindness.

Trauma:

Certain traumas can cause blindness in dogs, like if they were hit by a car or scratched or hit in the face. This blindness can either be a result of damage to the brain or nerves which impacts vision, or damage to the eyes themselves. This type of blindness would typically occur suddenly as an immediate result of the trauma.

Risk Factors That May Increase Likelihood

There are certain risk factors that can increase a dog’s likelihood of becoming blind. These factors include:

  • Breed: Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, Siberian Huskies, Schnauzers, Golden Retrievers, Maltese, Boston Terriers, Old English Sheepdogs, Shih Tzus, Pugs, and Yorkshire Terriers are all more genetically inclined to develop vision issues.
  • Age: Just like humans, a dog’s vision tends to deteriorate with age. Older dogs are more likely to develop cataracts and glaucoma; both of which are health conditions that can lead to blindness. As your dog gets older, it’s important to bring them to the vet as often as every six to nine months, so that they can get their eyesight checked frequently.

Diagnosing Blindness in Dogs

If you suspect your dog is going blind, it’s crucial to bring them to the vet as soon as possible. Your vet will run a full physical exam, which will include eye examination, pupil reaction time, body temperature, blood pressure, reflexes, weight, oxygen level, respirations, eye pressure, tear testing, and heart rate. It’s important to keep track of your dog’s symptoms and if they get better/worse so you can report them to your vet. Your vet may also run additional diagnostic tests to rule out underlying diseases, like Cushing’s disease or diabetes.

These tests may include:

  • Blood glucose
  • Blood pressure
  • Comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP)
  • Urinalysis
  • Complete blood count
  • Parasite screening: tick, heartworm and fecal testings
  • Blood urea nitrogen (BUN), redundant with metabolic profile, consider removing
  • Serum cholesterol, redundant with metabolic profile, consider removing
  • Thyroid panel
  • Bilirubin redundant with metabolic profile, consider removing
  • Tonometry (eye pressure test)
  • Schirmer tear test
  • Fluorescence stain

You may also be referred to a veterinary ophthalmologist depending on what the diagnostic tests find.

Treating Blindness in Dogs

Treatment depends on the root cause of your dog’s vision problems. In some cases, such as blindness that’s caused by SARDS or PRA, there may be no treatment available. In other cases, treating an underlying disease may help stop vision problems from worsening.

For example, if your dog has diabetes, you and your vet will need to give your dog insulin everyday for the rest of their life in order to manage it. If your dog has hypertension (high blood pressure), medication, a special diet, and frequent exercise is recommended for treatment. If your dog has Cushing’s disease, surgery may be needed to remove the tumor in the adrenal glands that’s causing it or life long special medication. Eye drops can also be used to treat certain conditions, like glaucoma.

If your dog’s blindness is untreatable, your only solution is to figure out a way to help your dog live comfortably with blindness. If their vision loss progresses over time, there’s a good chance that their other senses will heighten in order to make up for their loss of vision. Blind dogs will often learn to use their hearing as a replacement for eyesight.

Referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist can also be key to saving or restoring vision.

Living With a Blind Dog

Hearing that your dog is going blind is a terrifying sentence for any dog owner to hear. Your mind is probably flooded with a million questions: Are they going to be okay? How are they going to live? What can I do to help them?

Thankfully, blind dogs can have long, happy lives. You’ll just have to take a couple steps to help them adjust to their newfound blindness. Your blind dog will likely need your assistance at first with some tasks, but over time, they may go back to normal. You just have to be patient and optimistic.

These tips can help you and your pooch live with their blindness:

  • Noisy tags or bells on collars for other pets: If you have other pets in your home, get them collars with noisy tags or bells on them. Since your blind dog won’t be able to see other animals approaching, they need to be able to hear them. Noisy collars will alert your dog that another animal is near.
  • Keep your dog active: Just because your dog is blind doesn’t mean they can't be active. It’s just as important to keep your blind dog active as it is with any dog. Some easy blind dog activities include long walks and tug of war.
  • Scent training: Look up resources for scent training to help a newly blind dog cope.
  • Talk to your dog: Since your dog can’t see, it’s extra important for you to talk to them. Now is your time to train your dog to understand certain commands. Talking to your dog is also a good way to strengthen your bond with them and create a loving relationship.
  • Make your home easy to navigate: There’s a good chance that your pup has the layout of your house ingrained in their mind, so if they start to go blind, try your best to keep it as they remember. Make sure to keep hallways clear and put gates in any area that might be dangerous for your dog. You’ll also probably need to help them get up and down the stairs as they adjust to their lack of vision. It’s also a good idea to put padding on sharp corners of tables where your dog can bump into and get hurt.
  • Keep their food and bedding in the same spot: Dogs remember exactly where their food bowls and bedding is located, so the last thing you want to do is switch around their location. This will just make things confusing for your blind dog.
  • Encourage play time with other dogs: It’s probably not a good idea to bring your dog to the dog park the day they lose vision, but a blind dog doesn’t have to live in solidarity for the rest of their lives. It’s actually encouraged to keep your blind dog socialized. Start off small, like going to the dog park at less busy times of the day, and see how they react.

Dog Blindness: Frequently Asked Questions

There’s no doubt that having a blind dog can be overwhelming. It’s a huge adjustment for you and your pooch, and you want to do whatever it takes to ensure your dog is as happy and healthy as possible.

To help quell some of your nerves, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most frequently asked questions pertaining to dog blindness, so you can feel a little bit more prepared for what’s in store.

Can a dog survive being blind?

Yes, a dog can absolutely survive being blind. Infact, most blind dogs can lead very normal and happy lives. They will just need a few special adjustments. Blind dogs will need to be trained to follow specific commands that are different for sighted dogs so that they can navigate safely outside.

What causes a dog to go blind suddenly?

Sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS) is a condition that causes sudden and permanent blindness. SARDS is rare in dogs, but it most commonly affects older dogs. Certain dog breeds may be predisposed to SARDS, such as Dachshunds and Miniature Schnauzers.

Are some dogs more likely to go blind?

Certain dog breeds and genders are more likely to go blind due to their genetics. Some of these breeds include English Springer Spaniel, Siberian Huskies, Poodles, and Collie Breeds. Female dogs may also be more prone to SARDS, which can cause sudden blindness.

Final Notes

Slowly watching your dog lose their vision is undoubtedly heartbreaking. But as terrifying as it might be at first, there are many ways you can help your dog live comfortably without vision. As soon as you start to see any symptoms of blindness in your dog, contact your vet immediately. They will be able to identify what’s causing their blindness and if it can be treated. The quicker you catch your dog’s blindness, the quicker you can find a way for them to cope with it.

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References

  1. Acute Vision Loss in Animals, Merck Vet Manual, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/emergency-medicine-and-critical-care/ophthalmic-emergencies/acute-vision-loss-in-animals

  2. Eye Disease and Disorders, Merck Vet Manual, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/eye-diseases-and-disorders

  3. Dog Vision Loss: Signs, Symptoms, and Management, American Kennel Club, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/vision-loss-dogs-symptoms-management/

  4. A retrospective-cohort study on the development of cataracts in dogs with diabetes mellitus: 200 cases, National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11397260/